Sunday

25th Jun 2017

May's election win would still mean hard Brexit

  • If May's majority is not big enough, she will be trapped into the same situation, between pro-Brexit MPs and those against it (Photo: Number 10/Flickr)

British voters head to the polls on Thursday (8 June) to hold the first general election since voting to leave the EU last year.

Unless a shock Labour win happens, which experts say is unlikely, the results will not significantly change Conservative prime minister Theresa May’s plans for a hard Brexit.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Corbyn's Labour has gained momentum over the past two weeks (Photo: Matthew Kirby)

In the past two weeks, May has run into several gaffes that made her campaign slogan for a “strong and stable” government look less credible.

She was forced to U-turn on a party manifesto pledge to reform social care for elderly people after it was met with outrage from the public.

Her decision not to debate other candidates on TV and to refuse some interviews also made her look weak.

The Labour party gained growing momentum and was able to attract a part of society that usually does not vote, such as young people.

Polls suggest Labour is closing the gap, but after failing to predict Brexit in the EU referendum last year, pollsters have lost credibility and their estimates are often taken with a pinch of salt.

A poll of polls, which takes account of ten results from the past week, collected by the Press Association, put the Tories at 44 percent and Labour at 37 percent. The Liberal Democrats are forecast 8 percent, the UK Independence Party (Ukip) 4 percent and the Greens 2 percent.

How big is big enough?

The main question for Thursday is how big the Tory majority is going to be. This could influence how difficult it will be for May to push through the politically sensitive results of the Brexit negotiations.

"I suspect that they [Conservatives] will return with a fairly comfortable majority. If you look at the average of the opinion polls, it suggests to me somewhere around 50-60 seats [majority],” Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London told EUobserver, adding that it also depends on how many votes Labour can actually get.

The Conservatives currently have a majority of 17 in the House of Commons.

Bale noted that while Labour’s poll numbers have gone up recently, the Conservatives' have not gone down because they have managed to "suck up and hold onto the [anti-EU] Ukip vote”.

"If she [May] picks up a majority of 50-60, it would probably mean that she is in a better position to make compromises, because she won’t be so dependent, so reliant on the eurosceptic backbenchers,” Bale said.

May called the snap election in April to solidify her position, and it could allow her to make more compromises in the Brexit negotiations.

"Those compromises won’t be big, it will still be a hard Brexit, because we don’t want freedom of movement, that means we don’t want the single market,” Bale warns.

"But I think probably a bigger majority will allow her to get something closer to a kind of free trade agreement with the EU. Although in the party manifesto she talks about no deal being better than a bad deal, I think a deal is better than no deal as far as she is concerned,” he added.

Not winning a clear majority or a hung parliament would be an upset for the Tories.

But Iain Begg told EUobserver that a small majority for Theresa May is the likely scenario. Begg is a professorial research fellow at the European Institute of the London School of Economics.

“If the majority is not big enough, she will be trapped into the same situation, between pro-Brexit MPs and those against it, and her room for manoeuvre could be even smaller,” warned Begg.

On Wednesday (7 June) May and Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn wrapped up their campaigns. Reacting to concerns over last week's London terror attacks, May said that she would change human rights laws if they "get in the way" of catching terror suspects.

It highlighted the Conservative’s shift towards a more authoritarian direction, even if it is more rhetoric for now.

"A lot of campaigning in rather illiberal poetry, she’ll [May] have to govern in prose,” Bale said, adding that May is more likely to focus on making existing legislation work, rather than passing new rules.

What happens to Brexit?

The EU plans to start negotiations as soon as 11 days after the vote, on 19 June. The bloc's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier hopes to brief EU-27 leaders on the state of the talks at the EU summit on 22-23 June.

However, experts warn that substantive negotiations might not start until the autumn.

"Administratively and bureaucratically yes, negotiations can start as soon as possible, on the government level maybe it won’t really start happening until the autumn, because of German elections,” Bale said.

The view from London is that the German elections, due in September, will hold up the EU for another few months, providing time for the British government to prepare for the talks.

"The EU side is not going to be in a position to make moves until the German elections and coalition building is over. I don’t think it will be Britain holding up the negotiations. The politically sensitive issues will only come up in 2018,” Begg anticipates.

Even though the Brexit referendum took place almost a year ago, Britain is under-prepared for the negotiations and it might be in the country's interest to buy more time.

"The British government is woefully under-resourced in terms of the kind of people who can do these negotiations, so really, the more time they can have and build up the resources they need, the better – they won’t be rushing to do much until the autumn,” Bale said.

The phasing of the talks will be the first hurdle. The EU wants to have “sufficient progress” on the divorce deal before discussing the future relationship with Britain, while London wants to see the two talks run in parallel.

"This government still operates under the illusion that we will be able to do the two at the same time,” Bale said.

Another politically toxic issue will be the financial settlement between the UK and the EU. The UK still questions whether it has any legal obligation to pay for the EU budget and funds once it is out of the union, according to an EU official.

But if voters hand May a confident majority on Thursday, she might be able to more easily convince her MPs to swallow a divorce bill.

May promises hard Brexit in Tory manifesto

In her party's platform ahead of the 8 June elections, the British prime minister has asked voters to let her negotiate Brexit without guaranteeing a final deal.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Tories on manoeuvres, as Labour wakes from Brexit slumber

In Labour's programme for the June election, Jeremy Corbyn claims there will be no second EU referendum and promises a form of associate membership with the EU. For the moment, it’s as far as his party can go.

May's Tories fail to secure majority

[Updated] British elections produce a hung parliament, with Conservatives failing to secure majority, while still being the largest party in the House of Commons.

Focus

UK's universities set 'Brexit wish list'

British academics want to guarantee residency and work rights for their EU staff, as well as "enhanced mobility opportunities" for UK and EU students, mostly by keeping British participation in EU funding programs.

News in Brief

  1. Merkel and Macron hold symbolic joint press conference
  2. Juncker has 'no' clear idea of kind of Brexit UK wants
  3. Belgian PM calls May's proposal on EU citizens 'vague'
  4. UK lacks support of EU countries in UN vote
  5. Spain to command anti-smuggler Mediterranean force
  6. Estonia confirms opposition to Nord Stream 2 pipeline
  7. Ireland and Denmark outside EU military plan
  8. EU leaders renew vows to uphold Paris climate deal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUOn Public Services Day, Stop Austerity! Workers Need a Pay Rise!
  2. EGBAOnline Gambling: The EU Court Rejects Closed Licensing Regimes In Member States
  3. World VisionFaces of Today, Leaders of Tomorrow: Join the Debate on Violence Against Girls - 29 June
  4. ECR GroupThe EU Must Better Protect Industry from Unfair Competition
  5. Malta EU 2017Better Protection for Workers From Cancer-Causing Substances
  6. EPSUAfter 9 Years of Austerity Europe's Public Sector Workers Deserve a Pay Rise!
  7. Dialogue PlatformGlobalised Religions and the Dialogue Imperative. Join the Debate!
  8. UNICEFEU Trust Fund Contribution to UNICEF's Syria Crisis Response Reaches Nearly €200 Million
  9. EUSEW17Bringing Buildings Into the Circular Economy. Discuss at EU Sustainable Energy Week
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCan an Ideal Body Weight Lead to Premature Death?
  11. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Charges: What Does It Entail?
  12. World VisionWorld Refugee Day, a Dark Reminder of the Reality of Children on the Move

Latest News

  1. Macron’s investment screening idea watered down by leaders
  2. Leaders unimpressed by May’s offer to EU citizens
  3. New Irish PM praises unscripted nature of EU summits
  4. EU extends sanctions on Russia
  5. UK's universities set 'Brexit wish list'
  6. Decision on post-Brexit home for EU agencies postponed
  7. May's offer on citizens’ rights dismissed as ‘pathetic’
  8. 'Historic' defence plan gets launch date at EU summit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Social Services ConferenceDriving Innovation in the Social Sector I 26-28 June
  2. Dialogue PlatformMuslims Have Unique Responsibility to Fight Terror: Opinon From Fethullah Gülen
  3. EUSEW17Check out This Useful Infographic on How to Stay Sustainable and Energy Efficient.
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Criticises the Juncker Plan's Implementation
  5. The Idealist QuarterlyDoes Europe Really Still Need Feminism? After-Work Chat on 22 June
  6. EUSEW17Create an Energy Day Event Before the End of June. Join the Call for Clean Energy
  7. UNICEF1 in 5 Children in Rich Countries Lives in Relative Income Poverty, 1 in 8 Faces Food Insecurity
  8. International Partnership for Human Rights26 NGOs Call on Interpol Not to Intervene Versus Azerbaijani Human Rights Defenders
  9. Malta EU 2017Significant Boost in Financing for SMEs and Entrepreneurs Under New Agreement
  10. World VisionYoung People Rise up as EU Signs Consensus for Development at EU Development Days
  11. ILGA-EuropeLGBTI Activists and Businesses Fighting Inequality Together
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Prime Ministers Respond to Trump on Paris Agreement